PALLIATIVE CARE: Ipswich Hospice Care clinical manager Sharon Ferrar has more than 20 years' experience as a palliative care nurse.
PALLIATIVE CARE: Ipswich Hospice Care clinical manager Sharon Ferrar has more than 20 years' experience as a palliative care nurse. Emma Clarke

Where people go to die: The nurses of palliative care

THEY'RE the team of ordinary Ipswich people whose jobs involve helping others as they die.

The Ipswich Hospice Care nurses have helped hundreds of people on their death beds and their families since the service opened more than 20 years ago.

They're the team Ipswich families turn to when illness has no cure, when preventative treatments aren't working and when a life comes with a deadline.

It's their job to make people comfortable in their final months, weeks, days and moments of life and help them live until they die.

Sometimes that's pain relief, sometimes it's a walk in the sunshine and sometimes it's a visit from a pet goat in a nappy.

It's a job clinical manager Sharon Ferrar has pioneered since Hospice opened in 1995.

She has been a nurse since she was 16 but she was the first nurse to ever work at Ipswich Hospice.

"Palliative is about dying but it's more about how you live until you die because for most people they don't get a diagnoses that there is no curative treatment and then die immediately, it could be days, weeks, months, years so they're living with that diagnoses all that time waiting to die," she said.

"Rather than it be about that, we look in palliative care to how we help them live until they die. People say it's hopeless but it's not, there is always something to be done."

Ipswich Hospice's seven beds have been the final destination for people of all ages, backgrounds and cultures. The rooms have seen many tears but also many happy moments.

"There are teenagers, people in their 20s and 30s who and newly married and have young children, we have parents losing children, children losing parents, siblings losing siblings, the beautiful elderly couples who may have been together 60 years, the devastation of losing a life partner," Ms Ferrar said.

"There was a woman who was only in her early 20s and shed known for a long time she was dying, from when she was a teenager.

"The only thing she want to achieve in life was have a child and she did, she had a beautiful son. This young woman did such a beautiful job or preparing him for her death. That could have been the worst time in that little fellows life but his mum had done such a beautiful job preparing him.

"He'd say I'm helping mummy go to heaven and he used to come back to visit until he was a teenager. He didn't come to the hospice as a child who had a terrible time, he came as a place of sanctuary.

"That was always to me such a lovely thing that we could be a place where children could come and not be traumatised and feel love.

"We've had very unusual pets visit the Hospice including baby goats in nappies, sheep on the back of utes. We've had weddings, people think it's a solemn place and certainly it's a sad place, it has to be, but we as a community need to talk openly and honestly about death and dying."

Ms Ferrar said palliative care nurses took on a demanding yet rewarding role, one which saw her cry often and be a part of the community's life.

"Over my 21 years so many things have struck me as being a part of humanity on a level that most people will never see, to be with people from the moment they go from being alive to no longer being alive.

"I've sat with hundreds of people when they die and it never ceases to amaze me what that means. It's really full on and you cannot explain the privilege.

"The longer I'm in palliative care the more I appreciate the importance of your own wellness and dealing with layers and layers of sadness. I hear so many sad stories that just make me want to cry and the day I don't cry is the day I know I've had enough. I cry a lot and I'm proud of it because it means I'm still connected with people's humanity."

Ms Ferrar said the Hospice had developed extensively since its early years, growth which was thanks to the support of the Ipswich community.

"When I first went to the Hospice, it was like field of dreams, build it and they will come. I remember the first shift, there was an old Blue Nurses bag and it had a box of band aids in it and very little else," she said.

"We got to the point where there was a gentleman who was actively dying and we would have had to send him back to hospital. The other nurse and I decided we couldn't do that so we were going to stay until this gentleman passed away. It evolved after that and we just kept going until it was a 24 hour seven day a week service.

"I'm so proud of the wonderful team of nurses and the community that supports us.

"To think of going from the old battered Blue Nurses bag to what we have now it just phenomenal. Ipswich hospice is for of and by the community and that's what makes it so special, what makes it such a privileged.

"I don't know how many time I and my nursing peers have been told we're angels, but we're not, we're just ordinary people that have an affinity for caring for people at the end of their life."

Ipswich Hospice Care

Hospice is partly funded by State and Commonwealth grants and the balance of funding comes from generous donations and fundraising events.

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